Sea freight in the grip of sanctions
What sort of shipments can be handled in a country which is subject to sanctions? In an interview with the ITJ Paolo Sommavilla, head of the Ignazio Messina agency in Zurich, provided an insight into everyday practice in the shipping industry.
It remains to be seen whether the outcome of the Iranian presidential elections will bring about any changes in the overall situation. The sanctions regime against Iran is unlikely to change any time soon, given the current state of the freight and services sector, with trade subject to strict conditions. Although many Iranian companies are now meeting their import requirements from Arab, Chinese and sometimes South American sources, there is a continuing need for European technology.
Constantly relying on legal advice
At the time the ITJ went to press Ignazio Messina’s ships were among the few whose direct services still called at Bandar Abbas, Iran’s largest port, where there is an ever decreasing number of providers (see page 53). There are other providers, that still serve Iranian destinations by transhipment via the Far East – with corresponding time-frames. According to Sommavilla, word of Ignazio Messina’s special position is spreading. The shipping line is receiving inquiries «from right across the continent, some of which we’ve not had before. We’re surprised both by the customers as well as from the forwarding point of view.»
In order to meet the obligations arising from the sanctions, Ignazio Messina constantly has to rely on legal assistance. One of the central issues is determining the identity of the shipper and recipient, as well as examining the cargo. Every order is based on a letter of indemnity (LOI) which establishes the liability of the shipper and forwarder and includes a proviso with regards to customs clearance.
Vigilant customs authorities
Customs authorities are proving to be very demanding when clearing exports to Iran, particularly in Italy and Spain. It is not uncommon to have to produce additional documents, even after submitting the correctly completed customs documentation.
There have therefore been cases when the customer has had to resubmit payment receipts and suchlike. Sometimes, the authorities also require in-depth information about products which they suspect have a dual purpose. These are in contradiction of the sanctions. «Upon receipt of a chemical substance the customs authorities’ inquiries can even extend to trade secrets,» reported Sommavilla. Customers must then decide how far they are willing to go.
The future is uncertain
The unloading and onward carriage of all cargo in Iran is handled by Iranian agents in the port of Bandar Abbas. There can no longer be any question of freight leaving Iran, because Iranian exports have come to a virtual standstill. Import volumes have therefore increased for the few providers of these services. It is still unclear how these will be affected by the policy.